United States Marines Have Soul!
For my son, Gianni Kennard, USMC, a genuine Modernist and Soulboy!
One cannot think of the United States Marine Corps and music without thinking of John Phillip Sousa, the Marine Corps Band and the stirring military marches of July 4th Independence Day parades and celebrations.
But in July of 1963 it was another group of musical Marines,The Essex, who ruled the nation's air with an upbeat, doo-wop inspired record that topped the charts for two weeks.
Incredibly, the group, comprised of four young men and a young woman, were all active-duty Marines from Camp LeJeune, North Carolina and their record, Easier Said Than Done launched into the top position of of both the Billboard Hot 100 and Billboard R&B charts----becoming the first and only #1 hit record to ever be recorded by active-duty military personnel. Not even the great Sousa himself ever achieved anything like that!
The Essex was formed at Camp LeJeune in 1961 by Walter Vickers and Rodney Taylor, two U.S. Marines who had become acquainted while serving in Okinawa, Japan. Upon returning stateside to Camp LeJeune, the duo recruited fellow Marines Billy Hill, Rudolph Johnson and female vocalist Anita Humes, who had been performing at the base NCO club. The quintet began practicing in off-duty hours and a demo tape was cut, earning them an in-person audition with executives at Roulette Records in New York City. On furlough in March of 1963 and driving northward to their appointment, the group passed through the towns of Essex, Maryland and Essex, New Jersey and decided upon that as their name.
Within 24 hours of their audition The Essex was in the studio recording two tracks for their debut single----Johnson's Are You Going My Way and Easier Said Than Done, an an usual track having a “tick-a-tick” rhythm said to have been inspired by the Teletype machines in offices at Camp LeJeune where its composers, two fellow Marines William Linton and Larry Huff, worked. But it was Humes' sassy and crystal clear vocals that created magic and when the record was released in June Easier Said Than Done was a hit---surprising Roulette executives who had relegated it to the B-side. By early July it was the #1 record on the Billboard Hot 100 and later in the month the #1 record on the Billboard R&B chart, selling over 1 million copies and becoming certified as a “Gold Record”.
Military duties limited The Essex's ability to promote their new fame and limited their concert appearances. Shortly after the release of the single Johnson was shipped out to Okinawa. Though scoring follow-up hits A Walking Miracle and She's Got Everything and making a notable appearance at the Apollo, the group broke up in early 1964. Humes' enlistment in the Marine Corps had expired in October of 1963 and after the demise of the group she pursued a solo career, recording two singles for Roulette and embarking on an eight-month 36-city tour with Dick Clark's Caravan of Stars. The following year she enlisted in the U.S. Army. In 1966 Rodney Taylor was killed in a New York City robbery and later that same year Humes reformed the group as a trio, releasing one last single on Roulette in 1967 before finally calling it quits for good. In the early and mid 1970s Anita Humes and The Essex were rediscovered by young mods and American soul music devotees in England.
The recording of Easier Said Than Done is said to have taken all of about 20 minutes and yet within weeks rose to the rarefied pinnacles of the U.S. music charts. Perhaps never before or since has a group made success look so easy-----and decked out in their Marine “blues”, never so sharp!
19 May 2018
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